When Lauren Tolbert was a senior at North Oconee High School, she spent half her school days in a lab at Dawson Hall.

As part of the Young Dawgs internship program, designed to give area high school students an in-depth, hands-on look at academic areas that interest them, Tolbert was paired with Dr. Suraj Sharma from the FACS textiles, merchandising and interiors department.

As part of the program, Tolbert researched various topics, wrote proposals and conducted experiments involving microencapsulation under Sharma’s guidance.

“It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me in high school,” Tolbert said.

Today, Tolbert is a senior fashion merchandising major and FACS Ambassador who is on track to graduate a semester early in December.

She then plans to pursue a doctorate in polymer, fiber and textile sciences under the tutelage of Sharma and fellow TMI faculty member Dr. Sergiy Minko.

She said she someday hopes to work in a university setting, teaching and conducting research. She credits Sharma’s influence for much of her early success.

I would not be here today if not for him,” Tolbert said. “He’s always believed in me and pushed me, and never in an overbearing way. He’s just been so helpful and I’m so grateful for that."